Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jan 10
Avatar of Dennise Goldberg

by Dennise Goldberg

I attended an IEP this week where the discussion focused mainly on the student’s off task behavior; there are a variety of reasons why a student will exhibit this behavior.  The difficulty is identifying the exact reasons why or what triggered the off task behavior.  I think we as parents and educators of children with special needs must keep in mind that in order to determine the cause of off task behavior, we must acknowledge all the areas of need first.  Most children with special needs have multiple disabilities, so it’s imperative to look at each area as a possible trigger for off task behavior. 

1.  Is the task being performed a non-preferred task?

Most students have an easier time attending to classroom assignments when the subject is interesting and they enjoy doing it, but they still have to do the tasks they have no interest in.  Teachers and parents can establish a reward system for when the student accomplishes a non-preferred task and reward them with a preferred task.    

2.  Is the task being performed to challenging? 

As I stated earlier, many students have multiple disabilities, so it’s not uncommon to see students with Autism or ADHD also have a Learning Disability or other academic challenges as well.  Parents and educators should administer a full Psycho-Educational Assessment when trying to identify the reason for off task behavior in school. 

3.  Does the student have difficulty understanding the teacher’s instructions?

Learning Disabilities can vary from student to student.  Some students are not auditory learners; they are visual learners.  The other side of the coin is when the student has weak visual processing skills but has strong auditory processing abilities.  The key is to present the material where the student can understand it. 

4.  Does the student sit in the back of the room? 

Students have an easier time paying attention in class when they are seated near the source of instruction and any possible distractions are behind them and not in their line of vision.

5.  Does the student struggle during group physical activities?

It’s not uncommon that students have difficulty focusing when they are on the playground or in group P.E.  The student might have difficulty tuning out the variety of distractions including sensory difficulty in the environment; frequent re-direction will most likely be necessary and maybe a sensory diet to address sensory dysregulation.

6.  Is the student’s medication no longer helping them focus in school?

For those parents whose children take medication to help with attention, it can be difficult to find the proper balance.  If the dosage is wrong, it can make matters worse; in addition, long term use of one type of medication can reduce its effectiveness.  This can be an ongoing struggle to find the right medicine and dosage and feedback from the School Personnel can be very helpful   

7.  Is the off task behavior occurring in the morning or the afternoon?

Sometimes students have an easier time paying attention in class in the morning not in the afternoon; their energy level goes down right after lunch time.  I see this more frequently with younger children; however, it might be helpful for all students who experience this to have their core academics scheduled before lunch time.

8.  Does the student require sensory regulation?

Some students need to take a sensory break to either release energy or in some cases increase their energy level.  Allowing the student to walk or run around outside for a few minutes might help them regain their focus for the task at hand.

9.  Does the student experience anxiety for a particular task?

Some children with special needs also suffer from anxiety.  For example, if the student has to participate in basketball, but they are afraid they will get hurt.  They may not verbalize their fear but they will exhibit some other type of behavior to avoid participating.  Making accommodations for the student as to how they participate might alleviate some of the anxiety and fear of the task at hand.

10.  Is the student in the wrong placement?

Unfortunately, budget cuts have increased the number of students in a classroom; making it harder for students with special needs to access the curriculum.  As a result, the size of a classroom may have a negative impact on student’s ability to pay attention in class even with accommodations being made.  In order to decrease the off task behavior, a change of placement to a smaller class might be necessary.

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4 Responses to “Ten Potential Causes for Off Task Behavior in School”

  1. I believe my son’s attention difficulties arise primarily from auditory and sensory processing issues but we are having no luck in getting any kind of support for him in school fo rthese issues. There is a lot of talk about how “hyper” he is, but that doesn’t happen when he isn’t going to school so I don’t think it makes sense to medicate (especially given that the medications can cause problems). Hopefully we will get some help through the IEEs we are working on. I’d like to see sensory breaks and less stimulation in the classroom rather than hints to medicate a problem that seems to be more environmental than biological.

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  2. good information. please put me on your contact list.

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  3. Calling on a behavior analyst can be beneficial. Let us not forget problem behavior is always serving a particular function for the individual. There are four basic functions of behavior. More about functions can be found by going to educate autism or other good sources for behavior analysis. The first step is to take very good direct observational data. One should never place an intervention without first identifying the function because one could unknowingly be strengthening the behavior.

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  4. at home, i’ve noticed my daughter has a harder time focusing on the new tasks she’s learning. getting through her few pages of homework is a chore on those days.

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